I remember sparkling kind blue eyes in a narrow face, chopped muddy blond hair like she had cut it herself, and a slight frame in a coat that was much too big for her.
I don’t remember her surname. It was only last week, when I bought too much shopping and forgot my trolley, that I remembered her at all.
I don’t remember when she arrived at school. I don’t remember her existence until we were 9 or 10.
I am not an unobservant person, I wasn’t then, but I don’t remember her at all until our final year in primary school, so that must be when she arrived in our country town.
I dont know who she hung out with. I dont remember her in the playground, amongst the knots of children, but she must have been there.
Back then my gaze was always narrow, so deeply and ambivalently tied up as I was in my love/fear relationship with Jay, who was somehow slightly better than me even though her mum worked in a shop, her dad in a quarry
The first time I remember speaking to Shirley was during a snowy winter. I was cold and breathless with excitement at the snow, in the way only a child can be.
The classroom buzzed to the noise of chattering children excitedly telling each other their travel stories – their unremarkable journeys rendered exciting again by a blanket of white; stories punctuated by giggles at the loud squeaks of wet shoes and wellies on the classroom floor.
I was looking down at all the unfamiliar footwear, and noticed that she and I had similar pointy shoes – mine were red and more fashionable, hers were cinnamon and looked warmer. I remember walking up to her and drawing attention to it and she said “yeah they’re my mums”, mine were too, and that made us both laugh and smile a tenuous connection.
I only remember 2 more interactions after that.
the next time i noticed her she held the attention of the whole class.
We were asked to mime or act various things. Hers was the carrying of heavy shopping. You could see from the way she bowed to one side and puffed and showed discomfort and resolve on her face, that she was used to doing this. It was the first time I had some idea that acting was more than being a tree. The teacher praised her for her realism, and the class as one, sat up and took notice.
A few evenings later, i saw her in the garden that backed onto ours, and called her to the grassy bank that separated us. she wore her usual open, sparkling smile, and I asked her to be my friend in the transactional way children do, but she told me her family was moving away soon.
I remember the disappointment i felt at my failure to ask her the day of the shoes
I remember fantasising that we could have been friends, that maybe i could ask her if we could write to eachother. But i did not take my opportunity quickly enough, and a few days later she was gone, and all that was left was the memory of the kindly gaze, the sparkling eyes, and the knowledge that she was used to carrying heavy bags.